Tonight, Warren Jeffs, the former leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, will be the subject of a new documentary on A&E, “Warren Jeffs: Prophet of Evil.”
Jeffs, 62, is a convicted child felon and molester and is currently serving time in prison. A&E’s two-hour long documentary will investigate Jeffs and his followers, and how he was able to persuade approximately 15,000 people to succumb to his control.
Read on to learn more about Jeffs.
1. He Is Said to Have Married at Least 78 Women and Have More Than 50 Children
According to A&E, Jeffs is said to have at least 78 wives and 50 children. He also reportedly “controlled millions of dollars for the church.”
Jeffs was raised within the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a polygamist sect based in Utah and Arizona. The Church is an offshoot from Mormonism, but is not affiliated wth the mainstream Mormon church. Growing up, Jeff was known “for being a stickler for the rules and for discipline” and spent 20 years as the principal of Alta Academy, a FLDS private school.
According to A&E, polygamy had been common in Jeffs’ family for generations. His father, Rulon, had upwards of 50 wives and some say up to 80 children during his lifetime. Rulon became the FLDS prophet in 1986, and in 2002, when he died of a stroke, Jeffs took over his responsibilities.
2. He Was Convicted of Sexual Assault of Underage Girls in 2011
In 2011, Jeffs was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years for the sexual assault of 12 and 15-year-old girls who he had taken as his wives.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, jurors deliberated for less than 30 minutes before arriving at a consensus.
In court, prosecutors highlighted many of Jeffs “misdeeds” as leader of the sect, including underage marriage, child abuse, and the “forced separation of men from their families.”
Speaking to the outlet about Jeffs’ sentence, prosecutor Eric Nichols said, “He used his position of authority to corrupt and pervert … a religion, to continue his victimization of women and children.”
The outlet also reports that in trial, prosecutors played an audio recording of Jeffs assaulting the 12-year-old victim, after which he “launched into spirited defenses of polygamy and objections based on freedom of religion.”
3. He Was Once on the FBI Most Wanted List
In 2006, Warren Jeffs was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List for arranging marriages between his followers and underage girls, according to Biography.com.
Fox News reports that one of the key speakers in tonight’s documentary is Elissa Wall.
Wall was 14 when she was forced to marry her first cousin, Allen Steed, who was just 19 at the time. Wall tells Fox, “I really think at the time it was about submission. I could have become a really big problem for the community and for Warren. I was a little more outspoken than the average girl. But I really think it was about pounding me into submission… I was just the next player he wanted to eliminate and to quickly get control over.”
Wall says that even though she was born into the FLDS church, she often felt something was off about the community. “We led a very secret lifestyle… We didn’t interact with the outside world. We didn’t go to public school. We were educated, cultivated and bred to be products of the church and the religion.”
During her four-year-long arranged marriage, Wall suffered many miscarriages and a still-birth. She ran away from the church at age 18, at which point she met with a prosecutor with the intention of saving her sisters. “My goal wasn’t to take Warren down. My goal was to protect my sisters.”
4. His Daughter Rachel Wrote a Book in Which She Says Her Father Sexually Abused Her as a Child
In 2017, Rachel Jeffs, Warren’s daughter, released a memoir about her life in the FLDS, and what it was like living as one of Jeffs’ children.
The book is titled, “Breaking Free: How I Escaped Polygamy, the FLDS, and My Father, Warren Jeffs.” Last November, Rachel went on The Today Show to speak about her book and experience growing up. She says she was never allowed to have contact with the outside world. “[Growing up], we were taught that the world was wicked, everybody out here was the most terrible people.”
Rachel explains that as she became older, her father became more strict and his rules became odder; Rachel was also quick to notice that over time, her father’s brides became younger and younger. When she was 8, Rachel says her father started sexually abusing her. “It was so against his teachings; what he had taught us; I didn’t know what to think. I just felt terrible.” Rachel says she was abused way more times than she can count.
On December 31, 2014, Rachel left the group with her five children. She is now married to a former FLDS member.
5. He Was Hospitalized While in Prison for Fasting
In August 2011, Jeffs was moved to a prison hospital after becoming sick while fasting, according to the Associated Press. He had reportedly been fasting since his conviction.
According to the report, this was not the first time that Jeffs had been hospitalized while in prison. “He tried to hang himself in January 2007 while awaiting trial on rape charges in Washington County, Utah, and threw himself against the walls of his cell and banged his head, although he later told a mental health expert he really was not trying to kill himself.”
According to court documents obtained by CNN in 2007, a social worker who worked with Jeffs wrote that while in jail, he developed ulcers on his knees after spending hours kneeling in prayer. He was placed on suicide watch the days after attempting to take his own life.